General Ecology - BIOL 3651 - Fall
This undergraduate core course covers basic principles of ecology, which seeks to understand the biotic and abiotic interactions that influence the distribution and abundance of organisms. We follow the traditional framework from individuals to landscapes, with an emphasis on interconnectedness of concepts and approaches used by ecologists to test hypotheses. Major topics include adaptive strategies of organisms, population dynamics, species interactions, community structure and function, ecosystem ecology, productivity, food webs, biogeochemical cycles, landscape ecology, and human influences on ecosystems. Dr. Willson typically team teaches this course with other faculty in the department of Biological Sciences.
Herpetology - BIOL 5743 + Lab: Spring, even years
This mixed graduate-undergraduate course focuses on the fascinating biology of amphibians and reptiles. I teach this class from an ecological perspective and strive for application of conceptual material to pressing conservation issues and practical experience in the field and with live animals. Lectures focus on traditional topics in herpetology including evolution and systematics, reproduction and life history, behavior, population and community dynamics. For the first half of the semester we have weekly literature discussions, focused on conservation issues. For the second half of the semester we spend the full class and lab period (4.5 h) in the field, visiting a variety of local ecosystems and gaining hands-on experience with techniques used by herpetologists in the field. The course usually includes at least one optional extended field trip to see species that do not occur locally. The course includes a culminating writing assignment that can fulfill the undergraduate senior writing requirement.
Population Ecology - BIOL 4513/5513 + Lab - Spring, odd years
Understanding the dynamics of populations lies at the core of many challenges in ecology and wildlife management. Populations are the unit of evolutionary change and are frequently the most meaningful targets for applied ecological research or direct management. Finally, understanding of the dynamics of populations is a necessary prerequisite for predicting many emergent properties of communities or ecosystems. Population ecology has a rich history of both empirical (descriptive or experimental) and theoretical research. In this mixed graduate/upper level undergraduate course, students learn core concepts in population ecology, as well as many of the traditional methods used in both empirical and theoretical research. A major goal of this course is for students to become familiar and comfortable with mathematical approaches to modeling population dynamics, and to be able to use simple models without becoming mired in complex mathematics. The course alternates between lectures and group discussion of primary literature. Lab is split between computer modeling and conducting a manipulative field experiment with amphibians. The course includes a culminating writing assignment that can fulfill the undergraduate senior writing requirement.
Outreach and Public Education
We maintain a strong commitment to public outreach and education at all levels and regularly give classroom and field presentations on herpetology, conservation, and ecology to a wide array of audiences. We maintain a diverse collection of local reptile and amphibian species and include live animals in our presentations whenever possible.